το γαρ ϕρονημα της σαρκος θανατος, το δε ϕρονημα του πνευματου ζωη και ειρηνη. “For the flesh’s way of thinking is death; but the spirit’s way of thinking is life and peace.” (Paul in Romans 8:6)
After centuries during which this theme has been subjected to Platonizing (and therefore Greek) amendment, it has become almost impossible to grasp what is nevertheless a crucial point: The opposition between spirit and flesh has nothing to do with the opposition between the soul and the body. That is precisely why both the one and the other are thoughts. (Badiou, Saint Paul, pp. 55-56)
Badiou contends that, confronted with the “Christ-event” of death and resurrection, the subject finds himself divided in how he grasps and responds to that event. But this inner division isn’t the movement of a dialectic, whereby through the negation of the negation death is supplanted by resurrected life. Rather, the two moments are held in tension simultaneously and continually until the moment when resurrection suddenly comes forth out from the power of death, not through its negation. Paul doesn’t laud the redemptive efficacy of suffering as a means of mortifying the flesh and bringing forth the spirit. Suffering is inevitable in this world, but the Christ event offsets suffering with the consolation of hope. [Note: in Romans 5:3ff, when Paul writes that he exults in tribulation because it brings about hope, he’s not saying that the tribulation burns away his doubt, making him a more hopeful person. Rather, he’s saying that hope is what lets him exult while in the midst of tribulation. Both tribulation and hope, death and life, flesh and spirit, are present in him at the same time.] When Paul describes his own sufferings in some detail in 2 Cor. 11, he does so only to emphasize his own weakness, bearing the precious gift in an earthen vessel, in contrast to the discourse of power to which the Jews are accustomed.
Let us propose a formula: in Paul, there is certainly the Cross, but no path of the Cross. There is Calvary, but no ascent of Calvary. Energetic and urgent, Paul’s preaching includes no masochistic propaganda extolling the virtues of suffering, no pathos of the crown of thorns, flagellation, oozing blood, or the gall-soaked sponge. (pp. 67-68 )
Death cannot bring salvation because death is on the side of the flesh. He’s not talking about flesh as body, destined to perish while the soul lives forever. After all, the glory of the Christ event is the resurrection, the glorified body. Rather, the flesh is a ϕρονημα, a way of thinking about everything, including the body and the soul. Paul’s response to the ϕρονημα of the flesh is a resolute “no”. No to law and self-abnegation; likewise no to transgressive desire and self-gratification; most importantly, no to death. Paul says “yes” to the ϕρονημα of the spirit, to the uniqueness of the Christ event, to the resurrection.
In sum, death is only required insofar as, with Christ, divine intervention must, in its very principle, become strictly equal to the humanity of man, and hence to the thought that dominates him, which as subject is called “flesh,” and as object “death.” When Christ dies, we, mankind, shall cease to be separated from God, since by filiating Himself with the sending of his Son, He enters into the most intimate proximity to our thinking composition. Such is the unique necessity of Christ’s death: it is the means to an equality with God himself. Through this thought of the flesh, whose real is death, is dispensed to us in grace the fact of being in the same element as God himself. Death here names a renunciation of transcendence. Let us say that Christ’s death sets up an immanentization of the spirit. (p. 69)
Next: law versus love.